The meditative character that springs from the monotony of handicrafts is emphasized in the works of Emese Benczúr. The short sentences appear to repeat endlessly, making the effort that went into making the pieces a spectacular part of the finished work. The texts respond to the work, too: they are ironic and may be interpreted in general and in the creative process.
For example, in her thesis project, also on display at the exhibition, she embroidered “I am doing my duty” 230 times onto a close to 40-meter-long shutter strap. She transferred the apparently soft, feminine technique to a masculine, industrial material (a shutter strap) – imitating the fonts and stitch forms of machine embroidery by hand.
“Similarity is relative” – that can be read on the various pieces of blue jeans tacked to the wall which offer a possible means of systematization in the face of the chaotic disorder of reality. Over the course of a month, the artist visited a Levi’s store in District V when it closed and took away the collected pants leg scraps that were left after alteration for customers whose body forms deviated from the standard sizing of the pants. Then she embroidered on them the following sentence: Similarity is relative. Finally, she placed them side by side as a statistical diagram, arbitrary yet following a consistent logic.
In 2010, Mária Chilf met local women in Mezőszemere who earned their livings from the embroidery work they did. Their pay was shamefully low – they earned 600-1,000 forints for a single canvas on which they may have worked for days. The embroidery was not just work for them: a love of creation and a respect for tradition was combined in the activity.
In the project dubbed Private Pattern, Mária Chilf attempted to redraw the relationship between creator and client – or at least to show the absurdity of the situation. She asked three women to be photographed displaying their work, and these photographs were then transferred to another canvas that was given to them to embroider. In addition to embroidering around their own figures, the women were given license to use their own creativity to fill in the canvas. Another element of the project involved the women determining a price for their work that they considered fair.
The project includes the series of photographs of the artists as well as texts written by the women that can be interpreted as a kind of diary. The project continued after the 2010 Mezőszemere pictures, first with women from Szárhegy, then contemporary artists created pieces, too.
Mariann Imre’s concrete embroidery originates in her experiments as a university student, which were complimented by the embroidery techniques she learned from her grandmother. The processing of a personal, private heritage, with the passing on of family patterns through embroidery is both a meditative and spiritual process. This fine sacrality, difficult to express with words, is woven into the works of Mariann Imre.
This is a genuine experiment and mystery: how can the thin needle be stuck through the solid material of the concrete; how can someone sew stitches into concrete by hand? Concrete embroidery refutes the impossible, as this is the most improbable surface the artist could pick for a wispy thread. It is a meeting of opposing qualities: natural and artificial, hard and soft, coarse and fine, tradition and renewal, the hidden and the revealed. The material of the concrete is in itself symbolic: it’s rapid change of state and culminating solidity point to the content of human (female) existence.
In the 13 pieces of the work entitled Small Heart Experiment, we see organs that form biological hearts, stitched over with veins. Traveling in Rome, Mariann Imre came across sacrificial hearts on the walls of some churches that mediated the desires and wishes of believers – trusting in the hearts made of metal, the people waited for their requests to be fulfilled. This old, religious custom has been transcribed by Mariann Imre’s heart series.
The series entitled Hacienda was created in three phases, following the most important changes in a family’s life: the move into a new home; the birth of the first, then the second child. Black-and-white photographs that record the renovation, the construction spanning years, form the foundation of the series. Eveline Kusnyár intervenes in this seemingly emotionless, documentary series of photographs when she embroiders colorful children’s motifs on the surface of the images. The first pieces in the series (in white frames) were inspired by the birth of her daughter, followed by images brought to life (in black frames) with the arrival of her little boy, four years later. The latest pieces (in unflavored frames) show also the common creation with the children.
The use of embroidery as a surface application is not a novelty in the work of Eveline Kusnyár. Earlier, she embroidered networks of lines on the surface of photorealistic paintings created from old family photographs, designating points of connection and attachments – thus expanding, with content, the interpretative possibilities of the images. She also chose the technique of embroidery for the Hacienda series for personal reasons. In the images that follow the experience of motherhood, she has brought the figures with their baby clothes and diapers to the surface of the photos. The two layers – photo and embroidery, home renovation and child-rearing – effectively reinterpret each other, while offering a peek into a personal period of emotion.
Lili Hanna LŐRINCZ
The embroidery enlarged to a diameter of more than one meter is reminiscent of the embroidery frame regularly used for the craft. It also clearly points out that the process, rather than the end result, is what is really important. The artist (as well as the amateur undertaking the craft as a hobby) experiences in the course of the work that peculiar state that the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi described as “flow”: becoming so deeply absorbed in an activity that one loses track of time.
The creative gesture of the work becomes tangible, on a monumental scale, in the handicraft of Lili Hanna Lőrincz. The constant, repetitive motion of embroidery, the apparently never-ending series of stitches create a kind of meditative state – that is felt not only by the artist, but by the viewer, too. The shapes, reproduced and intertwined with each other, together create a colorful surface that is capable of allowing the viewer to experience this slowing of time, too.
Anna Makovecz is originally a painter who strives to step out of the system of two-dimensional images with the practice of space-creating installation. Arranging other objects next to the pictures, she discovered embroidery – that beautiful, simple and traditional feminine pursuit.
She looked for a system, a language – she seized on the patterns of Kalotaszeg, because they were native and familiar to her. She didn’t follow the rules of the language to the letter, keeping the red and white colors, but inventing new “words”, new patterns, rethinking tradition. In the art of Anna Makovecz, the language and world of patterns of the embroidery of Kalotaszeg is transformed into a contemporary message, when conceptual art working with words connects with tradition. The rigid application of the Kaloteszeg pattern, according to tradition, is part of tribal thinking which the personal, the individual can unlock for the future.
The words embroidered onto the pillows hanging in the space sometimes stress those values meant to be emphasized a bit didactically. The pillow, as a useful object that comes in immediate proximity to our bodies, that preserves the impression of the body, has a symbolic power. Removed from its usual environment, the ritual function of the throw pillow takes center stage – and its connection to important turning points in people’s, more specifically, women’s lives.
Eszter Metzing’s textile graphics deal with the psychological imprints of childhood. Here we can see a highlighted section of the installation entitled Fabric of Childhood which showed at the Inda Gallery in 2021. The ensemble of work forms a kind of intimate space in which one can really wander among memories. The experience of the space is suitable for evoking various stimuli – reflexes, memories, associations – in the viewer that are further strengthened by the transparency of the canvases anchored in space.
Eszter Metzing is interested in determining the degree to which childhood experiences influence our present, as well as our awareness, if any, of their determinative effect. The colorful, embroidered commemorative images on fabric appear to be from the artist’s own childhood – the toys, fairytale or film characters are mixed in a surreal manner with scenes from the real world. Thus one or two characters from the Addams Family or Bananas in Pyjamas are placed in the company of kindergarten friends and toys.
Embroidery has a number of characteristics that make it especially suitable for illustrating memory and conscious or unconscious behavior. The embroidery threads can be interpreted as threads of emotion that refer to connections, but also to knots or tangles. The semi-transparent canvases, which overlap in places, reflect on the overlying, blurry commemorative images.
Judit Lilla MOLNÁR
Judit Lilla Molnár selects her embroidered works one by one from everyday objects. Thus the motifs of Kalocsa embroidery are applied to what is most certainly one of our most profane implements: a toilet paper roll. The embroidered patterns of Matyó salute us on surgical masks and rubber gloves – recalling the day-to-day of the years spent in quarantine.
The hand embroidery transcends the former disposable objects, and it clears the way for new interpretative possibilities. This is also reinforced by the way the works are presented: placed before the viewers on pedestals in collection cases, with the appropriate documentation, in a manner that is emphatically museum-like. The everyday objects are reinterpreted, appearing in a different light – the objects become works of art in the hands of Judit Lilla Molnár, evolving as symbols of our shared, everyday lives. At the same time, the objects are deprived of their original functions: they become impossible to use or completely pointless.
Zsófi Pittmann’s installation is the interior of a room that nods to tradition, with embroidered decorations, but is also filled with contemporary references. It pays homage to the traditional parlors, or “clean rooms”, that were crucial spaces of folk and peasant culture. There was usually only a single living room beyond the thresholds of village homes, but whoever could allow it created a representative space: a “clean room”. It was here that the stove or masonry heater, large dining table (“chamber table”), bench (couch), high bed piled up with throw pillows had their place. A corner of the “clean room” was also turned into a sanctuary, where the home altar and the icons were kept.
In this room, all embroidered objects show two sides. Visually, they draw on folk art – in terms of content, they are very contemporary. Lyrics from a well-known 20th century song (Miklós Varga’s “Európa”) can be read on the shelf border, on the tablecloth we can recognize Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Freddy Mercury on the wall hanging. The QR code leads to the (now stopped) online Radio Free Europe. Beside the traditional art form of embroidery, analogue cyanotype photographic print technique is applied in an image of a tooth fairy, which is also a shrine (it contains the milk teeth of the artist’s children). We can see an optical illusion on the table. Using a technique known since the Middle Ages, the distorted image becomes recognizable in a reflection.
The highlighted canvas maze is part of Sára Richter’s more than 50-meter-long work entitled Human Personality. The canvas – as the title suggests – is an infinitely personal confession, and can also be seen as a visual diary in which the artist allows a glimpse into her own life, but the world’s most universal stories – sibling rivalry, health-sickness, family, attachments – also appear. The sewn, embroidered and printed images and texts are complemented with various appliqued objects that all have symbolic weight. The animal’s teeth, coins and sewn on pieces of earlier handicraft are all parts of a “graphic novel”. The color and back of the canvas also convey information: the loose ends and stitches enrich the work with a new layer of significance, revealing the “other” side of each story.
The strips of canvas which have been sewn together in a single, long streamer appear in the space as a labyrinth that invites the viewer to step closer and get a little lost in the maze. The work is a personal self-confession – and at the same time an environment constructed of textile reversing into itself. It invites the viewer, emotionally, psychologically and physically, into its own space. In the labyrinth we enter, literally, into the personal history that Sára Richter shares with us in this piece of art, and from what we see here, we can even recognize in our own lives, too.
Eszter Ágnes SZABÓ
Twelve square meters: that is the area of a standard 504cm X 238cm billboard, of which the streets in Hungary and across Europe are full. The commercial or political advertisements are the message of a single sender to the many – Eszter Ágnes Szabó attempts to turn that process around in her communal project and offers the chance to anybody to leave their own message on an area of the same size, twelve square meters. Switching the communicative role filled by the billboard allows room for real activity, and the typically slow, solitary activity of embroidery becomes a communal project.
Eszter Ágnes Szabó systematically deals with embroidery in her work as an artist – her embroidered wall hangings, filled with pop culture references, are well known – and she has long been interested in the ties between billboards and embroidered wall hangings. Kitchen wall hangings, which appear in Hungarian folk culture from the mid-19th century, are similar to billboards in that they serve as surfaces for conveying messages: the embroidered images and the telling, succinct texts serve the housewife with good advice and wisdom.
The work was displayed at MODEM in 2018 and in the Ludwig Museum in 2020 and grew with the embroidery of visitors. We encourage interaction again: you, too, can leave a message in embroidery!
The project dubbed Soundweaving raises the question of how folk motifs would sound as music. That is, how can embroidery be heard?
For the project, Zsanett Szirmay selected folk cross-stitch embroidery (decorated pillows, shirts) from Bukovina and Kalotaszeg, in Transylvania, and from Hungary. Treating the stitches as notes, she transferred the series of patterns to a tape of the kind used for punch-card music players from early in the 19th century. In this way, the hand-punched tape functions as a kind of score – the composer Bálint Tárkány-Kovács assisted with the transcription of the patterns. Soundweaving’s continuation, using carpets from the Middle East, has been presented at a number of important international programs.
The Soundweaving project affects all of our senses at once. The embroidery has been turned into laser-cut textiles in the course of the transformation, while the cross-stitch patterns have become a melody. The work is interactive – anybody can sound out the embroidered motifs on the music player. The result appears surprisingly harmonic. In this we can recognize a hidden connection: the endeavor to proportionality of both traditional decorative art and musical composition and the universal character of folk art. To put it plainly: what looks good also generally sounds good.
Márton Emil TÓTH
Márton Emil Tóth’s series of embroidery on photographs bears the title Incubuses, and he guides us deep into ancient superstition as well as our own psyches. The demonic figures of incubuses appear in the folklore of many peoples, and they play an important role in the world of Hungarian myth, too. The notion of incubuses could originate from a peculiar meteorological phenomenon: in flat, marshy areas, the combustion of swamp gas produces green and blue light similar to a candle.
Márton Emil Tóth made his series of photographs onto overdue analog films. The medium and the technique, which he was not very familiar with, beared some insecurity – in this method the artist had to bate his need of perfection and go aroud the process more freely. Here, the embroidery technique supplements the content of the images, mainly by means of the holes punched by the needle, and is reinforced by the background illumination, a reference to the world, full of secrets, hidden beneath the surface.
In the work of Krisztina Vigh, embroidery becomes the focus of our attention as an independent entity. This independence is emphasized by the absence of the conveying surface. Instead of traditional canvas, the embroidery appears on surprising materials: used blister packs, gummy candy – moreover, the system of embroidered motifs appears in a self-contained manner when completely removed from the surface. In the form created using a 3D pen, the conveying surface behind the motif vanishes completely. The work explores the system that connects the stitches, while at the same time reminding the viewer of the importance of connections in communication networks and our emotional lives.
Her inspiration draws from traditional embroidery, but her choice of materials is distinctively contemporary. Krisztina Vigh’s materials of choice are plastic and rubbish that are made noble in her hands, and through embroidery – which not only decorates but holds them together – a strange entity that has never before existed comes into being. The system of motifs established with the use of the 3D pen paves the way for the newest techniques – interestingly contrasting the contemporary process with the old, traditional folk method of embroidery.
Krisztina Vigh ultimately creates a portrait from embroidery in all of her work. The repetitive nature of traditional, folk art motifs also introduce the issues of seeking personal identity and confronting tradition.